This post was most recently updated on November 15th, 2017
Fermenting grain is a fantastic way to save money and increase the health of your stock. Fermentation has been used for hundreds of years in food preparation and preserving. If you have ever eaten cheese, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, sourdough, vinegar, beer or wine you have had fermented foods.
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What does fermenting grain mean? Beer?
We are looking for bacterial or Lacto-fermentation. Bacteria consume sugars (carbohydrates), starches or alcohol and produce acids.
This is different to Yeast-fermentation where Yeasts consume sugars (carbohydrates) and produce alcohol.
Alcohol is toxic to animals, so that is NOT what we are aiming for. Fermentation with lactic acid producing bacteria increases the acidity of a food so that only the good bacteria can survive in it thus preserving it from bad things that make food rotten.
Feed consumption and waste will drop by 1/2 to 3/4 this will save you money as the food is better digested and less is wasted by being pooped out before being absorbed.
Animals on a diet of fermented feed are generally healthier and less likely to contract diseases as they have a healthy gut biome with lots of good bacteria.
How to Ferment Grains for Animals
There are two effective methods for fermentation of grains on the homestead.
The first is a four-day rotation with 4 separate containers each with enough feed for one day.
The second is a continuous larger vat that is partially used then replaced every day.
Each has its own benefits. A four-day rotation needs 4 smaller buckets and it is easy to know where you are at with the batch and increase/decrease the volume as required.
A larger continuous batch will always be part very fermented and part only-just-fermented, but overall will have a higher bacteria and acid volume, which as long as your animals will eat it when it is quite sour, is better.
You can use whatever feed you usually use, be it whole grain, crushed/rolled grain, mash or pellets. You may find that you can downgrade to a cheaper grain or for laying chooks go half mash half oats or barley and not notice a change in their laying.
If the girls are also getting plenty of free range you will probably be able to swap to straight fermented grain plus forage.
For a four-day fermented grain rotation:
DAY ONE: Take 4 buckets or containers that will hold a day worth of ration plus some room for air.
Pour half to three-quarters of your normal feed ration into each of the buckets/containers.
Add enough water to cover the grain plus 2-3 cm (1 inch) of water over the top. Stir. Some of the grain may float, that is OK it will sink as it absorbs water.
Place a lid loosely on the buckets and allow to sit overnight.
DAY TWO: Check all the buckets, top up with water if required to keep 2-3 cm water above the top of the grains – this helps stop it going moldy then stir them.
Drain and feed out the first bucket to your animals and re-make the brew with fresh grain.
DAY THREE: Feed out one of the two-day-old buckets of fermenting grain and replenish that one.
Repeat each day, by day 5 you will have one bucket 4 days old, one that is 3 days old, one that is 2 days old and one fresh from yesterday.
Now you can keep rotating the buckets and always have 4-day old grains.
There should be a slightly sour smell to the grains. If they grow mold or smell putrid then they have been infected with gross and they need thrown out.
If they smell slightly yeasty you may be able to salvage it by adding 1/4 cup of Apple Cider Vinegar to rebalance the PH and allow the lactic bacteria to take hold again. The ACV contains acetic bacteria that will eat any alcohol (bad) that may have been produced and turn it into vinegar (harmless).
For a continuous fermentation of grains:
You need a large container, enough to hold at least a weeks worth of grain. Some people do it in a barrel with a sack full of grain at once.
There is no rule as to how big or how much, you do what you think will work best for you, but at least a weeks worth of grain is a good place to start.
Pour your grain into your barrel and add enough water to cover it completely plus a few inches and cover loosely with a lid.
Everyday remove your ration of fermented grain required and replace it with fresh grain and water as required to keep it topped up. Give it a good stir and re-cover it loosely.
Remember the grain increases in volume when it soaks up the water, so if you remove 2 cups of fermenting grain you will probably only need 1 – 1 1/2 cups to replace it.
You can continuously brew fermented grain like this for a very long time, the only issue is if the bacteria get too active – for example in the warmer months- you may find the animals start rejecting the grain as it is too sour to be palatable.
You can get around this by:
1) Keeping your barrel somewhere cooler.
2) Diluting the sour grain with other (fresher) soaked grains.
3) Add little molasses to sweeten the deal.
4) finish that tub and re-start the giant ferment every few months as required.
Fermenting Grains with a Starter Culture
You can use a starter culture to ferment your grains if you like, but it is not necessary. The grains will have naturally occurring lacto-bacteria on them.
If you would like to give the ferment a kick start you can use the following – water or milk kefir, whey from mesophilic cheese, cultured buttermilk, kombucha, pro-biotic capsules dissolved in warm water or a purchased fermented vegetable starter sachet.
Yogurt whey wont work for fermenting grain as it needs warmth to grow.
ACV isn’t a helpful starter culture for fermenting grain as the bacteria in it is an alcohol eating bacteria that produces vinegar (acetic acid).
ACV does, however, increase the acidity long enough for the lacto bacteria to take hold and form a good colony before mold and yeasts take over.
Do you ferment your grains? Tell me about it in the comments below!
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